After a bit of deliberation on the subject, I’ve decided to post my story. This was not an easy decision, as it is difficult being so candid and vulnerable online. However, I remember that during my recovery, I found it helpful to read about other peoples’ journeys with EDs. Not only did it show me that I was not alone in the situation, it was also useful in the sense that I was able to see that recovery was possible, and how people went about their recovery and what worked for them.
In this story I will be mentioning some numbers, so please be aware that this information has the potential to be triggering for some. Proceed with caution!
As far back as I can remember, I don’t ever recall having a good relationship with food. When I was a baby and a toddler, I’m sure it was fine; but even when I was a kid I didn’t think about or approach food the way I should.
When I was young, I was a horribly picky eater. Mealtimes were a little bit of a battle between my family and I. I didn’t like milk, expect on cereal. I didn’t like beef (so no meatloaf or burgers) or tomatoes (so no pizza, spaghetti, lasagna, ect.)…the list goes on. Basically, I was very limited in what I would eat. That started me on the mindset of always being in a battle with my food.
I was definitely an active kid. I did Highland dancing for about 10 years. I did pretty much everything at one point or another – dancing, baseball, soccer, figure skating, gymnastic, ect. I was never really chubby as a child, but I was tall for my age and had a sturdy frame, something I started taking notice of in my later years of elementary school. Around that time I started having issues with binge eating. I hated eating packed sandwiches at school, so I would always throw them out and just eat the sides. By the time I got home, I would be absolutely starving and I would raid the kitchen. I’d eat a granola bar or two, bagels, toast…whatever I could get my hands on. This set me up for some poor habits later on.
In high school I continued with my habits of not eating properly during the day. I’d have Eggos, Poptarts or Toaster’s Strudels for breakfast (if I bothered to eat it at all), would usually skip lunch, and attack the kitchen when I got home. I continued in this starve-then-binge all throughout high school. I wasn’t nearly as active as I had been when I was younger (I played field hockey in the fall and took the occasional gym class, but otherwise I was extremely sedentary) so the weight gain became noticeable, especially to me. Although I was never officially overweight, at my highest I was less than 5 pounds away according to BMI standards. I became incredibly uncomfortable in my own skin.
I’d always try to lose weight, but any attempts at it (basically, starving myself even more than I had been previously) would last a few days, and then end in a massive, disastrous binge. I would end up being dejected and giving up, only to try again a week later.
When high school ended, I had started a new relationship with an older guy and wasn’t home often – therefore, losing my ability to binge so often. Because of this, I dropped some weight over the simmer – about 10 pounds overall. So when I started university than fall, I still wasn’t thrilled with my body but was in a better place than before. I decided to join the campus gym, and started hitting the elliptical about 4 days a week.
I went to school about an hour away from my hometown. I’m naturally shy and withdrawn – making friends has never been particularly easy for me. I felt compelled to go home every weekend, out of sheer loneliness and wanting to see my boyfriend.
As time and the relationship continued, the power dynamic started to change. He became controlling, manipulative and angry. I felt like I had no control over my life and what was happening to it. I began to watch what I said and did at all times – restricting who I talked to, what I did and where I went, just to avoid outrage on his part. I spent so many nights crying in the bathroom in my residence, having absolutely no idea what I could do about it. I never felt good enough to please him, and my already-fairly-low self esteem began to crash.
I remembered the feeling I got when I had lost weight over the summer – the sense of power and sheer joy. Because I had been going to the campus gym regularly, I had lost a few more pounds. I decided to put more focus into that – I wasn’t living the life I wanted, but I figured I could at least try to get the body I’d always hoped for.
I started going to the gym for a longer amount of time and more often. I made sure to document every morsel of food that went into my mouth. I would follow the same pattern with my meals every day – skip breakfast, the same lunch, the same dinner, the same night time snack, all washed down with a ridiculous amount of diet coke (the fact that I can even still look at the stuff today is amazing). I started to research food and nutrition in my spare time, devising lists of what was acceptable and what was not. Anything high is sugar? Gone. High in fat? Not on the self-imposed diet plan anymore.
By the time I finished first year, I was about 25 pounds down from where I was the year before and I was thrilled about it. I had finally worked up the nerve to end my relationship, and did so without looking back. I decided to transfer universities so I could remain in my hometown with my family and friends. Everything seemed to be falling into place.
But once I was back on my old ground, my old habits kicked in. My house was full of food I hadn’t touched all year, so as soon as I was in arm’s lengths I began to binge again – worse than before. Eating cream cheese out of the container with a fork – that sort of thing. Of course, I was horrified to see the weight creeping back on. I was in a much better place now – why was this happening to me? I decided that this absolutely COULD NOT happen again. I headed down to my local bookstore and walked straight into the diet section…
I don’t want to say which book I picked up specifically, because I don’t want anyone to start along the same path I was on. I will tell you that it was during the low-carb craze; basically, I became terrified of bread, grains and fruit. I followed the diet to a “T” and of course, lost weight immediately. What I had put back on after I returned home from school was now gone. The diet recommended I started bringing carbs back into my diet but theory was – if I had lost so much weight this way, why would I stop? Although I was starting to experience horrible stomach issues, crazy fatigue, dizziness…I just ignored it. I told myself it was worth it if it meant I would actually be skinny.
Around this time my mother and I planned a trip to Mexico that fall. Spending a week in my bathing suit – just another reason to stay on the diet. I became very good at telling myself “No.” Can’t have this, it has fruit, can’t have that bread, can’t have anything remotely resembling sugar. I went out for ice cream once that summer and became so terrified and worried about gaining weight that I vowed not to do it again. I was working overnight shifts in a factory that summer, so I was preparing all my own meals and eating by myself; This made it easier to get away with how I was eating.
When my mom and I went to Mexico, I was thinner than I had ever been in my entire life. My mom was worried about me, but I was elated – it was what I had worked for. I let loose a little bit during vacation. I didn’t work out once (over the summer I had worked out in some form every day) and started eating dessert again. It was easily one of the best weeks of my life. Many of the locals and resort staff commented on how skinny I was – but definitely said it in the most positive way possible. I was positively glowing.
When I returned home, so did my fear of gaining weight. I had indulged on vacation and was terrified it was going to catch up to me, and I was going to wake up one morning looking exactly as I had in high school. I became even more restrictive with what I was eating. I was back on a regular schedule and eating with my family again by this point, so I began dictating what dinner would be each night. It had to fit into my very-small definition of “safe”. If my parents wanted something I had deemed “unsafe” I would just alter it until I decided it was acceptable to eat. Anything that was happening to me physically wouldn’t stop me. I had even had a horrible fainting spell where I collapsed into a wall, but I still wouldn’t stop. At this point, I felt like I couldn’t.
Over that fall and winter, my weight continued to plummet. I was in a new relationship by that point, and my new boyfriend was telling me I was anorexic. I refused to believe it. I insisted I just ate really healthy and exercised a lot. My weight fell into the double digits – so dangerous for my 5’7 frame. By then, I was starting to entertain the idea that maybe something was wrong, but I refused to accept it. my social life dwindled down and my concentration began to wane – all I could think about was food. When I would allow myself my next meal, what I would eat, daydreaming about foods I would no longer allow myself to eat – I could make it for friends and family but wouldn’t allow myself to touch it. My life revolved around my disorder. The ED promised me that if I followed his rules and continued to lose weight, I would get everything I wanted. I just needed to be skinny.
That winter, I finally confided in my mother about the scary physical effects I was seeing in my body. My hair was thinning and falling out in chunks, I was cold 24/7, my skin was flaking, I couldn’t walk up a set of stairs without feeling like I was having a heart attack, and I was growing a peach fuzz on my back and arms (lanugo: the body’s last resort to stay warm in cases of malnutrition). My mom had been seeing my weight drop and was incredibly alarmed by this point. She immediately made an appointment with my doctor.
At the appointment, she weighed me and talked to me about what I was eating. She never mentioned the word “anorexia” and neither did I. She did ask me about laxatives which I had never touched (and never did). I left feeling like I didn’t accomplish much, but I could at least acknowledge that there was a problem.
Over Christmas, my weight continued to drop. I looked skeletal – I couldn’t hide from it any more. I bad been seeing myself get smaller and smaller, but I could never really admit that it was happening to me. I kept convincing myself that what I was seeing in the mirror wasn’t really me – it was a completely different being. I knew I had a problem, but I couldn’t admit that it was that bad.
(I don’t have any pictures of myself from this era. I completely shunned mirrors and photos – anything that made it obvious as to how sick I was)
Sometime late that winter, I had a bit of a break. My weight loss had stalled for a while – I had been at the same weight for about a month. I knew I either had to step up my weight loss efforts and cut my already minuscule diet down even more, or admit that I had a problem that needed to be fixed. By some miracle, I chose option B – the first time the phrase “I have anorexia” came out of my mouth, I had an absolute breakdown – I sobbed for hours.
At my doctor’s advice, I went to see a nutritionist and started on a meal plan. The plan itself was terrifying – 3 meals, 3 large snacks a day. It was more food than I had ever eaten before. But I was determined – I wanted to beat the disease. I followed the plan until I started working that summer. I still followed the basic idea, but changed some things around due to my schedule. Then, I fell off the bandwagon almost completely. I was still eating more, but not eating enough and not gaining as fast as I should have. I had gained enough over the summer that I didn’t look so damn skeletal – but I was still underweight and stuck, both physically and mentally. I wasn’t willing to eat more, and had hit a mental block. I had gained some weight but I was afraid to gain more. After talking to yet a different boyfriend (yes, I dated around a lot. I’m sure something can be said for that) and my family, I decided that the next step was professional help.
After feeling stuck for a while, I decided it was time to see a therapist. I had no desire to keep following my meal plan and I needed to figure out why. I went to Hope’s Garden (the eating disorders resource centre in London, ON. If you’re in the area and struggling, it is a fantastic place to seek help) and got the name of a therapist. I emailed her and immediately booked an appointment, but I was terrified. I had some depression and anxiety issues in high school and had refused to see a therapist then; I was convinced I could handle any problem on my own. Clearly, I had been “handling” it on my own for a while by that point and it wasn’t working any more.
I went for my first appointment, incredibly nervous. The therapist had a nice home office setting and she was comforting and easy to talk to. I didn’t take very long before I was comfortable with her, and after a few appointments I was talking non-stop. She pointed out things about my personality that I had never considered before (such as my perfectionism, type A personality, easy prone to depression ,ect.) and how they could have an effect on why I wasn’t eating or why I felt compelled to be skinny. We also discussed at length my emotionally abusive ex, and how that loss of control could have easily led to my disorder. She led me to discover things about myself I hadn’t known before, as well as helped me establish more control over my life and how to ask for what I need. I saw her for over a year. Quite easily, it was the best decision I’ve ever made.
One of my therapist’s suggestions was to attend group support meetings. This was a weird idea for me; I had been solitary in my disease for so long, I wasn’t quite sure how to be open about it with other people. Of course, it ended up being instrumental in my recovery. Talking to other people who know what you’re going through has endless benefits. The group was held at my university – I went almost every week. Basically, I spent a year living and breathing my eating disorder, putting most of my thoughts and energy into recovery.
Mentally, I was in a much better state, and physically, I was healthy. My weight was stable and I had a new outlook on life and my disorder. I felt I had gained all I could from therapy and group. What I learned however, was that the battle doesn’t end there.
It was about a year and a half ago that I stopped attending therapy – and honestly, I still struggle with some disordered thoughts, and I think I probably always will. At my first appointment, I was told it takes on average 7 years for an anorexic to recover, from the moment they decide recovery is possible. According to that logic, I’ve got about 3 1/2 years to go before all disordered thoughts are gone. There’s also the theory that it’s similar to the AA outlook on alcoholism; they always considered themselves in recovery, even if it’s been 30 years since their last drink. I don’t know which theory is true, but I’m prepared to live with the repercussions of my disease for a long time.
Although I’ve been at a steady weight for about 2 years and it’s been ages since any sort of serious relapse, I’m not perfect. I remember an incident a little while ago where I had a complete breakdown over peanut butter cookies. I’ve always got a little bit of the disorder with me (in therapy, I referred to it as a “seed” in the back of my mind) but I refuse to let that seed grow and take over my thoughts again. My self-esteem is better, my healthy is better, my outlook on life is better, and I’m in a fantastic place. I no longer need my disorder for any sense of stability or promise of control
I’m still getting used to the idea that I can eat whatever I want, whenever I want. I still tend to overdo it on desserts sometimes, because I’m not used to the idea that I can have cake whenever I feel like a piece of cake; there’s no internal or external limit on what I can eat. I eat a relatively healthy diet, because I enjoy healthy eating and the energy it gives me, as opposed to forcing myself to do it so I can lose weight.
My experience was awful; anorexia is something that I would not wish upon my worst enemy. It takes you over, robs you of health, happiness, relationships, self-love…everything important. In the end, being skinny does NOT make you happier. No matter how small you get, it’s never enough for the eating disorder. It wants to tear you down until you have nothing left.
I consider myself lucky. I got away from it before it did any permanent physical damage (as far as I know, anyways) and because of recovery, I’m more in tune with myself and my emotions more than I ever thought possible. So many women (and men) spend their lives battling this disease – and my heart goes out to them. If you fall into this category, I wish you all the best and sincerely hope you are able to get the better of this disease. If there’s anything you want to talk about, feel free to email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
If this helped anyone realize they aren’t alone in their disorder, that’s awesome. It was pretty therapeutic for me to write as well – I’ve never put it into this many words before.